With next week’s season opener at UIC very much within sight, the excitement for the Valparaiso University women’s basketball season has continued to build. The new season will bring with it a new era for the program as Mary Evans gets set to begin her first year as head coach.
After 15 seasons as a successful Division-I assistant, Evans has taken the reins for a Valpo team that is set to begin its second season in the prestigious Missouri Valley Conference.
“Our players have been working hard and buying in,” Evans said. “They have showed that they understand that there is only one way to play this game, and that’s at 100 percent and with full effort. They’re just fantastic people with a great culture. That aspect of it was already here when I arrived, and the team has continued to grow on and off the court.”
Meredith Hamlet (McBain, Mich. / McBain) is back as Valpo’s leading returning scorer after averaging 11.6 points per game last season, a mark that ranked 11th in the MVC. She enters this year already 18th in program history in career points with 949 and seventh in career 3-point field goals made with 153.
“Meredith has done a tremendous job as a leader of our team,” Evans said. “She’s in a challenging situation because everything has been flipped on her for her final season. She has done an amazing job buying into what we’re trying to do and embracing the new system offensively and defensively.”
Hamlet started her career as a Horizon League all-freshman team performer before receiving more recognition as a junior by earning MVC Scholar-Athlete Honorable Mention. She participated in a 10-day Athletes in Action trip to East Africa this summer. The youngest Hamlet sister and the third to play women’s basketball at Valpo, Meredith will begin her final collegiate season next week.
Also set to embark upon her last go-around at Valpo is Allison Schofield (McCordsville, Ind. / Heritage Christian), who has played in 63 games over her first three seasons.
“Allison has done a fantastic job,” Evans said. “She has completely bought into what we’re doing. She is shooting the ball extremely well and has a great understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively. What we’re doing fits well with her game. She has expanded her role on our team and I’m anticipating good things from her this year.”
The senior class is rounded out by Hannah Schaub (Brooklyn Park, Minn. / Park Center), who has two years of eligibility remaining after taking a medical redshirt a year ago. After winning the 2017-18 starting point guard job with a strong preseason, Schaub went down with a season-ending injury in the second game of the year. Now, she’s back healthy and ready to contribute as Valpo women’s basketball begins the Evans Era.
“Hannah has worked tremendously hard to get back,” Evans said. “She’s getting a lot more reps now and is picking things up quickly. She brings a really hard-nosed, blue-collar mentality to the point guard position and has tremendous leadership on and off the court. She is a true defensive presence and does an incredible job on that end of the floor.”
Schaub enters the season already 17th in program history in career assists with 237.
From breaking a record that had stood since 1992 to making SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays, Maya Meredith (Indianapolis, Ind. / Cathedral) provided some of Valpo’s most memorable moments last season.
Meredith dished out a program-record 16 assists on Dec. 15 against IU Northwest before hitting a game-tying buzzer-beater from nearly half court on Feb. 16 to send a game against Southern Illinois to overtime.
“Maya is doing a nice job playing the point guard spot for us and picking up what we’re doing,” Evans said. “She is helping us get organized and I’m excited for her to have the opportunity to play in the new system and see how it works for her.”
Grace Hales (Cromwell, Ind. / Westview) averaged 8.0 points per game last season, third on the team and second among returnees. She has earned the team’s Sixth Player of the Year distinction each of the last two seasons.
“Grace’s role has changed in the new system and she’s working extremely hard to understand it and figure out how she can best help our team both offensively and defensively,” Evans said. “Her work ethic is unbelievable. She comes out to practice every day ready to work. Her ability to shoot the ball and get to the rim is something that is going to help us this year.”
Caitlin Morrison (Glenview, Ill. / Glenbrook South) made 29 starts as a sophomore and is Valpo’s leading returning rebounder at 4.5 per game.
“Caitlin has worked really hard during the offseason,” Evans said. “Her skill set fits extremely well in how we want to play. She’s been very vocal with her teammates and in the locker room.”
Addison Stoller (Cissna Park, Ill. / Cissna Park) is back after being limited to five games in 2016-2017 and 17 games in 2017-2018 due to injuries.
“Addison has worked extremely hard to get back to 100 percent,” Evans said. “Her work is paying major dividends. Her ability to play both inside and outside is going to give her a lot of opportunities to affect the game and have success on the court this year. Addison is a player who gives a full effort every time she steps on the floor.”
Marlee Profitt (Medina, Ohio / Highland) played in 28 games last year after sitting out her first season on campus due to an injury.
“Marlee’s best quality is the energy and effort that she brings to practice every single day,” Evans said. “Her leadership and ability to communicate have been huge. She’s physical and tough.”
Bryce Blood (Toledo, Ohio / Whitmer) led the team in field goal percentage last season at .476 (60-126) while appearing in 31 games and making 29 starts as a freshman.
“Bryce has worked really hard to adapt her game to the new style,” Evans said. “She brings us a physical presence on defense and has a strong rebounding ability. She is finding ways within our offense to be effective on that side of the ball. She has worked incredibly hard to adjust her game and works hard every day in practice.”
Another player who made an immediate impact as a freshman was Nicole Konieczny (Granger, Ind. / South Bend Saint Joseph), who averaged 5.9 points per game and ranked second in the conference with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.6.
“Nicole had a really good freshman year and she’s going to bring a true blue-collar work ethic to the point-guard position,” Evans said. “She’s feisty and knows how to get to the rim. She understands the game of basketball and how to get others involved.”
Taylor Richards (Doylestown, Ohio / Chippewa) played in 14 games during an injury-plagued freshman season after a noteworthy prep career in Ohio.
“Taylor has been battling injuries and working hard to try to get back on the court,” Evans said. “I love the energy, enthusiasm and leadership that she brings for her teammates when she’s out there.”
Ella Ellenson (Rice Lake, Wis. / Rice Lake) is back for a second season after appearing in 30 games as a rookie.
“Ella brings a tremendous level of athleticism to our team and works extremely hard day in and day out,” Evans said. “She can be a real matchup problem for other post players in our league. I’m excited to see what this year brings for her.”
Nicole Johanson (Herscher, Ill. / Herscher), a 6-foot-5 forward, retained four seasons of eligibility after redshirting during her first season with the program.
“She is a great teammate and is working hard in practice to try to improve her game,” Evans said. “She brings a very positive energy to our team.”
Shay Frederick (Greenville, Wis. / Hortonville) has joined the program after serving as a team captain as a junior and senior in high school. She led her school to its first state tournament final four appearance in 30 years and helped her team to regional titles in all four prep seasons.
“Shay is doing great and is a kid who can really shoot the basketball,” Evans said. “She has a good understanding of the sport and a high basketball IQ. She has worked hard in the weight room to get physically stronger and she’s putting in the effort that it takes to adjust to the college tempo.”
Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill. / Montini) is also a true freshman who was a four-year letter winner in high school. She helped Montini Catholic to a state runner-up finish in 2018.
“Ilysse brings an athleticism to our team that will be a great asset,” Evans said. “She’s shooting the ball well. Her biggest challenge will be getting used to the physicality and tempo of college basketball. There will be opportunities for both of our freshmen to make immediate impacts.”
After starting her collegiate career at Denver a year ago, Carie Weinman (Glenview, Ill. / Glenbrook South [Denver]) will have to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer regulations before beginning three seasons of eligibility at Valpo. Weinman poured in 34 points in a single game last season, the highest point total by a Denver player in 17 years.
“Carie is doing a great job in practice challenging our players while she sits out this year to gain eligibility,” Evans said. “She is a high-caliber shooter and is making important contributions by helping our team prepare for the upcoming season.”
The Nov. 7 opener against UIC and the Nov. 11 home opener against North Dakota help kick off a nonconference schedule filled with quality regional mid-majors. Valpo’s early-season slate also includes a visit to Big Ten foe Illinois and a weekend at the Vinewood Farm Classic, a multi-team event hosted by Morehead State.
“It’s a challenging schedule,” Evans said. “It gives us an opportunity to play a lot of different styles of basketball. The schedule will allow us to see a lot of different styles that we’ll see in the MVC. There is a good variety of teams on our nonconference schedule that will help us prepare for conference play.”